16 July 2018

Kenya: Boom for Kenyan Avocado Farmers as California Drought Bites

Photo: Dennis Onsongo/Nation Media Group
A trader selling avocados at Kangemi market in Nairobi.

Kenyan farmers could benefit from a sharp rise in the price of avocados on the international market in the coming weeks because of a shortfall in production in California, the leading US exporter.

The production shortfall is blamed in part on severe heat during last summer when the avocados that are currently being harvested were still maturing.

That was on top of the long drought that affected the state and, when the heavy rains finally arrived in the winter, it was too late.

Kenyan coffee farmers have been switching production to avocados in recent years as demand for the product has skyrocketed on the international market.

Kenya sells around £180 million worth of avocados to the UK alone each year.

But consumer experts have warned of the danger of over-relying on avocados as there has already been a reaction in the ethical consumer market - which forms a significant part of people who buy the product - to purchasing avocados grown in developing countries.

The reaction is in part fuelled by concerns over air miles, the distance and environmental cost of bringing in avocados from developing countries, but also the consequences, in that avocados could become unaffordable for local consumers.

"I try to keep our men's air miles down and cook seasonally and s locally as possible," Joseph Ryan who owns a vegetarian restaurant in London told the Times newspaper. "To be honest I also think we might just be entering a post-avocado era."

Kenya is currently the world's sixth largest exporter of the fruit, but it briefly banned exporting avocados on in January because the country's supply was at risk.

In recent years, the popularity of avocados has increased and is driven by the global awareness of their health benefits.

However, there are concerns by stakeholders that Kenyan farmers should not rush to uproot their coffee trees in order to plant Avocado. This is because it takes about three years to start producing fruit, and a further two to reach maturity.

Some Kenyan farmers are also hopeful that coffee demand could rise as the government and the private sector have been working to promote Kenyan coffee abroad.

They also warn that this recent boom is unpredictable as other farmers might decide to flood the market with more avocados thereby forcing the price to fall globally.

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